Carroll County Supervisors Chairman Mark Beardmore
Carroll County Supervisors Chairman Mark Beardmore
June 11, 2013

Carroll County Supervisors Chairman Mark Beardmore's seat faces south from the courthouse. At one point Monday he motioned in that direction.

"That railroad sound you're hearing isn't that we're that close to the track," Beardmore, a Carroll Republican, said.

Beardmore, who has waged a fierce fight to keep Carroll County out of the state's developing regional system of mental-health services, says a Department of Human Services letter last Thursday rejecting an exemption request doesn't book-end the battle.

Polk County is the only one to get exemption, partially, Beardmore says, because of its size. Beardmore charged that the state is playing favorites with Polk County with rules and a review for Polk's benefit, and keeping an exemption out of reach for Carroll County.

"There's anger, there's a little bit of that," Beardmore said during a regular supervisors session Monday morning.

Department of Human Services officials said in the letter that Carroll County did not meet the standards for exemption based on several criteria, including penetration rate of services and costs. In Carroll County, 143.2 people per 10,000 are served compared with 189.5 per 10,000 statewide. Carroll County spends $10,974 per person served, compared with $6,950 per person served statewide, the DHS reports.

The DHS rejection of Carroll's County's exemption raises a question in the county's pursuit to preserve its own system of services.

"Is this a bump in the road, or are we dead in the water?" Beardmore asked.

The county could appeal the decision, but local officials indicated such a course may be fraught with more problems than upside.

"It's going to drag this out. It's going to leave us in the wings," said Dawn Mentzer, central point of coordination administrator for Carroll County.

As of the end of March, Carroll County had $2.9 million in reserves for mental-health services. The county expects to spend $1.3 million on mental-health services for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Carroll County manages mental-health and intellectual-disabilities services for more than 220 people with a variety of problems from anxiety to depression to schizophrenia to mental challenges requiring services at New Hope Village, one of the counties providers.

Carroll County has maintained the reserves for such services, and supervisors don't want to see that money, built over years, used to lift any less economically well-positioned counties in a region. They are also concerned about quality of service. The board is considering spending on building projects before entering any agreement to draw down the reserves.

There is a nine-county, mental-heatlh-services region to the southwest, as well as a four-county region to the west and north with Crawford, Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun and one to the east and south with Greene, Guthrie, Audubon, Dallas and Warren.

Carroll County supervisors said they are inclined to work with Crawford, Buena Vista, Sac and Calhoun, which are forming a region, and would possibly be open to an agreement allowing counties to keep their reserves, if that falls within state rules.

Supervisor Dan Nieland, D-Breda, said savings could emerge from joining a region.

Supervisor Neil Bock, R-Carroll, said the county went to great lengths to preserve a stand-alone status.

"We all tried to do what we thought was best for Carroll County, our taxpayers," Bock said.

He said the DHS rejection means it's likely time to move on to regionalization, and he spies opportunity with the Buena Vista, Sac, Crawford and Calhoun organization.

"I would kind of lean toward the organization to the north," Bock said.

If Carroll County doesn't get in on the ground floor of a regional system, it could be assigned one by the state - meaning it would have no choice in the selection and no voice in the formation of the organization - a major risk if Carroll County doesn't relent and accept the DHS decision, Bock said.

Supervisor Gene Meiners, D-Templeton, said he's torn on how the county should move next.

"One side of me says, 'Let's teach them a lesson,'" he said of a possible appeal of the DHS decision.

Beardmore said that regardless of the board decision he may challenge state authority himself, as a private citizen. The state, Beardmore said, cannot compel counties to enter agreements with each other.

"I think pooling is illegal," Beardmore said. "I don't think we should take it lying down."